By David R. Newman
Medical supplies are in short supply these days, but thanks to some innovative thinking by nonprofits like Maker Nexus, doctors and nurses who are on the front lines fighting Covid-19 are able to operate safely.
Maker Nexus is a maker space in Sunnyvale that provides tools and training for a membership fee. For $150 per month, users have access to 3D printers, laser cutters, a woodshop, metal shop, vinyl cutter, heat press, and more. When word spread that hospitals were running out of personal protective equipment, primarily face masks, face shields, and gloves, the idea to 3D print them was born.
Says Eric Hess, General Manager of Maker Nexus,” It was very clear that there was going to be a shortage based on the experience in Italy and the initial cases that were coming up in the Santa Clara region.” They decided to focus on creating face shields, a product that lends itself well to the 3D printing process.
After researching face shields online, Hess settled on a design created by Prusa, a 3D printing company based in the Czech Republic (Maker Nexus owns five of their printers). Prusa face shields were already being used in hospitals throughout Europe. However, design changes were needed, as doctors and nurses here wanted protection over their heads as well to prevent droplets from falling into their eyes.
After a few design tweaks, Hess ran the first print on March 19. Two days later, the first prototype was in the hands of local medical professionals. Says Hess, “It was a very rapid process. That’s one of the cool things about a maker space. You can iterate very quickly through a design process with a bunch of different people contributing, even though they’re all working remotely.”
In fact, maker spaces across the country have leapt into action in the war against the Coronavirus, filling the gap left by traditional manufacturing methods. Says Hess, “There’s a huge problem with the supply chain right now because factories in China are shut down. This is compounded by the tremendous demand for equipment. This is a way that we can step up to help the community by providing some immediate solutions that traditional manufacturing can’t fulfill.”
It would seem to be the perfect scenario for the maker community. As Shelter-In-Place orders keep everyone at home, those with 3D printers can simply download the plans and start producing parts. Hess estimates that around 400 volunteers have signed up to help, with more being added every day. The main challenge right now is obtaining the material needed to keep production flowing. Says Hess, “We’re trying to reach out directly to the larger suppliers.”
Local students have also risen to the occasion, including Aditya Indla, a sophomore at Bellermine Prep in San Jose. Along with his uncle, a researcher at UC Berkeley, and his school’s maker lab, he has joined the fight not only by making face shields but by raising money to help buy the needed plastic. They estimate that each face shield costs around $5 – $10 to make. Indla has started a GoFundMe page (see link below) with a goal of raising $10,000.
As of this writing, the Maker Nexus community is producing about 300 face shields per day, with a total of over 5,000 face shields having already been delivered to local medical facilities, including the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Foundation, Kaiser in Oakland, Good Samaritan Hospital, Alta Bates Medical Center, Highland Hospital, Benioff Children’s Hospital, and the Weil Cornell Medical Center in New York.
Maker Nexus currently has requests for over 20,000 face shields from over 130 different medical facilities. As the number of Coronavirus cases continue to rise and demand for more face shields increases drastically from day to day, Hess admits it’s been a little overwhelming.
“It’s been a challenge. But we’re a community organization – it’s primary component of who we are. And together we can help get this equipment into the hands of the doctors and nurses on the front lines.”
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